At an event tagged ‘3 Days, 100 Years‘ last week, the UK cultural tourism community in association with auction house Bonhams hosted members of the Nigerian tourism and culture board to a celebration of Nigerian arts and culture in commemoration of the country’s centenary celebrations.
The Nigerian minister for Tourism Chief Edem Duke led a delegation from Nigeria to attend the series of events between the 20th to the 22nd of May as well as Dr Dalhatu Tafida, the Nigeria high commissioner to the UK and notable business personalities and creatives.
The three-day programme began with a tour of Tate Britain followed by a special auction of contemporary Nigerian art by Bonhams on the 21st of May tagged ‘Africa now’ which featured record breaking sales of African art.
The auction was was a celebration of art from across the African continent. However, it was Nigerian and Ghanaian artists whose work took top prices in a sale that made a total in excess of £1million and saw new world record prices for at least ten different African artists.
Commenting on the sales, Hannah O’Leary, Bonhams Head of Contemporary African Art said, “Since our inaugural Africa Now auction just five years ago, this market has gone from strength to strength.”
She also added that “While artists from at least fifteen African countries were represented, the top prices were reserved for the best pieces by the Nigerian Masters, which seems appropriate for a country celebrating their centenary and that recently became Africa’s largest economy”.
The biggest sale on the night was of foremost Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu’s 1976 oil painting ‘The Princes of Mali’ which sold for £92, 500.
Enwonwu became the first African artist to be commissioned to sculpt the Queen in 1957 and guests at the event were treated to the rare honour of a private viewing of her Majesty’s private collection of his works.
Interest in Nigerian art continued to dominate on the night with other world records set for Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo whose 1972 painting ‘The Flight’, sold for £62,500. This record was broken just minutes later when ‘Woman with Gele’, sold for £80,500 against a pre-sale estimate of £30,000 to £50,000.
‘The Flight’ depicts a young family in native Yoruba dress, seated on a bicycle. Grillo began the work during the Civil War, and the sight of civilians abandoning their homes to escape the soldiers reminded Grillo of the flight of the Holy Family from Israel to Egypt: a saw can be seen along with their baggage; a reminder of Joseph’s profession as a carpenter.
His other paintings also performed well with ‘Ogolo’ selling for £67,300, ‘Workers in the Fields’ (£35,250) and sculptures ‘Anyanwu’ (£64,900) and ‘Africa Dances’ (£35,000).
A wooden sculpture by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui (born 1944) titled ‘The Clan’ sold for £27,500. Now an internationally celebrated sculptor, his work is displayed in public institutions around the world, and a major touring exhibition of his work is currently on show at the Bass Museum of Art, Miami, Florida.